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Rethinking Discipleship


What resonates? Algebra lessons or Bunsen burners? Learning new vocabulary words or field trips? A history lesson or playing kickball in physical education? Achievement tests or recess?

Going out on a limb, I am going to assume that the latter of each comparison above is usually more appealing. While you may have had a wonderful teacher in some of these topics such as algebra or history, people generally respond better to participatory learning than a passive model. Movement is more desirable for a young person than being stationary.


Neo-scholasticism in action

Neo-scholasticism – Learning facts through the steady hand of a mental disciplinarian, the student will be able to share data and regurgitate large amounts of information. While it had its day as the prevalent philosophy of education, today neo-scholasticism—heavily influenced by Aristotle and Aquinas—lacks strong support in western education circles. But wait just a minute…it’s not out of favor in all realms of western life.

The chosen philosophy of education for adults in many churches is neo-scholastic in content and delivery. The students sit in some formation while the one with superior knowledge stands or sits in a prominent position. Going through a pre-determined curriculum or some systematic plan conceived months or more ago, the teacher trains the intellect of the pupils. During this scholastic exercise, listening is good, though taking notes is better. To maximize the learning experience study notes, books, and CDs can be available for further review at home or in some quiet place. At times the teacher may ask students to raise their hands to foster learning participation. Questions, often rhetorical in nature, may be interspersed to further stimulate thinking, ensure consciousness, or as a segue to the teacher’s next point.

Pragmatism in process

Pragmatism in process

Pragmatism – Educators today use a more pragmatic philosophy of education where the students and teacher are both seen as fellow travelers, though one has more experience in many areas (though probably not all—consider gaming, foreign languages, unique field of interest, etc.). The curriculum is relevant to the needs of the student at the current time. As a result, desire for learning increases. Learning is a hands-on experience. Today, educators employ a couple of popular methodologies–understanding by design and differentiated instruction. Both of these fit soundly in the pragmatic camp as commitments to doing whatever it takes to help each and every student learn the content. Some hallmarks of these methodologies include a high level of commitment to utilizing hands-on, interactive education and modifying the classroom experience for each child to facilitate learning through their preferred learning style. As a result, classroom environments are being set up with different stations and areas for learning through creative means, field trips are being planned as part of the learning process, etc.

Though much of the western church has kicked the flannel board aside, there is still a high level of commitment to hands-on learning for children. For adults, however, teaching is as neo-scholastic as ever. Attempts to increase interaction today consist of use of a Power Point display, video, or notes to be passed out. This is the methodology and these are the tools the church is using to “make disciples.” I contend that we must do better in the disciple-making process. Much, much better.

I will be posting several entries following up on this in the weeks and months to come. Along with missio dei and mission, this will be a major theme for discussion—though in fact these topics are practically impossible to extricate from one another. This post is intended to lay out a framework for beginning the discussion. In conclusion, it is important to note that learners remember only 10% of what they read and only 20% of what they hear. But if a learner says and does something himself, then the retention goes up to 90%. This leads me to believe that a re-think is in order if we are going to make disciples that obey.

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Categories : church, discipleship


  1. […] discipling, Jesus uses a pragmatic philosophy of education. Evident throughout the gospels, it is clear in his interaction with followers after […]

  2. […] than I could ever teach them in a countless number of lectures. This is obedience for us. It is pragmatic discipleship for them. It is a blessing for us […]

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